It was a rather bitter irony that a few days before receiving notice that Herman Wallace, one of the “Angola 3,” who has been diagnosed with liver cancer, there was an article in the New York Times about the negotiations between the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola and the National Museum of African American History and Culture (Smithsonian Institute) to acquire the prison’s concrete guard tower.
The apparent willingness to transfer the ancient guard tower, a symbol of the prison’s brutal and corrupt legacy, is in stark contrast to Wallace’s deteriorating physical condition.
Angola Prison is a continuing reminder of slavery’s cruel and unremitting past and Wallace, languishing in one of the cells—and it should be noted that the museum is also seeking to acquire one of the prison cells—appears to be inconsequential to preserving artifacts of the past instead of caring for an ailing inmate.
Wallace, 71, and his fellow prisoner Albert Woodfox, both former Black Panther Party members, have been held in solitary confinement longer than anyone in modern U.S. history, according to a press release from Amnesty International. “The men have spent 31 years of their lives alone in tiny cells for 23 hours a day, deprived of any meaningful human interaction,” the release continued.
The two prisoners were originally incarcerated for unrelated cases of armed robbery, but they were later convicted of murdering a prison guard in 1972, despite the lack of evidence connecting them to the crime.
In its fight to secure freedom for the “Angola 3”—Robert King, one of the three, was released in 2001 and has been relentless in his campaign to free his comrades—Amnesty International has compiled a number of glaring flaws to challenge the unjust convictions. “DNA evidence that might have established the men’s innocence was somehow ‘lost’; outcomes were based on questionable inmate testimony; prison officials bribed the main eyewitness; and one witness later retracted his testimony,” Amnesty contends.
As the prison moves to conclude its negotiations with the museum and the Smithsonian Institute, advocates and activists for the liberation of Wallace and Woodfox are intensifying their fight to free them, particularly the ailing Wallace.
“Prison authorities have broken their own policies to justify Herman’s continued incarceration in harsh and inhumane conditions,” said Jasmine Heiss of Amnesty International USA. “After decades in these conditions, a highly questionable conviction that continues to be challenged in the courts, and now a tragic prognosis of terminal cancer, the next step seems all too clear—Herman Wallace should be released.”
Those interested in helping to free Wallace and Woodfox are asked to write or call Governor Bobby Jindal and to send letters of support directly to the prisoners.
For more information and access to a petition and contact numbers go to: